THE ESTABLISHMENT STRIKES BACK – Brexit and Cool Britannia

“The Labour Party needs to be saved”. Substitute “Nation” for “Labour Party” and these are the opening lines of every coup leader across the world and throughout time justifying their bringing down of a democratically elected leader in the higher cause of unity, stability, peace, crisis etc. “There will be neither Constituency nor Branch Meetings until the leadership election is completed to avoid intimidation” is the equivalent of “freedom of assembly will be suspended in order to prevent disorder.” And “new members will not be allowed to vote but non-members can if they sign up as registered supporters and pay £25” is a disincentive to the poor. And of course there was the drive to keep the troublesome incumbent off the ballot.

For, while democracy is absent under totalitarianism, under capitalism it is never more than conditional.

I have an open mind regarding Angela Eagle. She voted in favour of the Iraq War in 2003 and abstained, under her Interim Leader’s orders, when faced with the “Work and Welfare Bill” in 2015 that slashed tax credits but I don’t hold that against her – most Labour MP’s did the same after Harriet Harman mistakenly inferred from the General Election result that “the people” wanted benefit cut. (The bill’s enforced revision proved otherwise).

But this isn’t about Angela. Or Owen. It’s about the limits to democracy. It is about the same voices which condemn the reselection of Members of Parliament after ten years as “bullying” insisting the Labour Leader must face reselection after ten months. It is about the 60% of Labour Party members (in a four horse race)  voting for outsider Jeremy Corbyn), and about the 52% of the nation’s voters choosing to Leave the European Union in the face of all three main political party leaderships urging otherwise. It is about the threat to the status quo to which those combined expressions of revolt amount.

Previous Labour Party leaders, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Michael Foot, Jim Callaghan all stepped down after losing a General Election (as did Tory Leaders, William Hague, Michael Howard and John Major).  Tony Blair resigned after 13 years in office and handed over to his Chancellor as per their agreement. Neil Kinnock was allowed to lose two General Elections. It doesn’t look like Jeremy Corbyn will be allowed to lead the Party into a mere one.

So why is the Parliamentary Labour Party in mutiny? David Cameron staked his leadership on the EU Referendum, lost and resigned. But Jeremy Corbyn didn’t, so what else could it be about?

Well it is not about electability, not wholly anyway. All four Parliamentary by-elections under Jeremy’s leadership have been substantial Labour victories. Ogmore in Wales saw the 2015 general election vote unchanged but still returned an 8500 Labour majority.  In the disaffected north of England, i.e. Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, Labour won and gained 6% points on the general election. In Oldham West and Royston, also a northern seat, Labour won too, gaining 7% points and in cosmopolitan London, only last month in Tooting, Labour won gaining 9% points. And of course Party membership (that fell consistently between 1997 and 2010) is, under Jeremy, ballooning.

It is not about policies either, not wholly anyway. If anything Ed Miliband’s Mansion Tax was more radical than anything that has come out of the Corbyn camp. Bring the railways into public ownership after the existing franchises expire? Very popular, even among non-Labour voters. A National Investment Bank? Likewise. Indeed there are no crosses-the- red- line pledges such as mass re-nationalisation or leaving NATO or marginal tax rates of 95% that I can see to trigger panic among the centrists in the PLP or in the constituencies.

Personal scandal? Despite some who fear Jeremy is anti-Semitic (and the Israeli Ambassador said he was perfectly relaxed about Corbyn’s speech after the Chakrabarti report was launched) this has not been referenced by the revolt.

The obvious answer is that the politics of most of the PLP was forged in the centrist New Labour years while Jeremy’s values and societal view comes from an earlier more left wing time. But more illuminating is the timing of this unprecedented purge of the leader, coming as it does in the wake of the Referendum result.

On one level it is convenient for the plotters to take advantage of the despondency and bewilderment of those Labour members who voted Remain and who are understandably still grieving (or in some cases rationalizing the Leave result as a socio-psychotic episode, an atavistic spasm of the stupid and the racist). On the other it perfectly captures the failure of the Labour Party to anticipate the consequences of the qualified neo-liberal economic project that the European Union is in leadership, policy and practice. It shines a light on the fault line between the more cosmopolitan and more bourgeois members for whom the EU is a symbol of internationalism, diversity and peace and the more provincial and working class members on whom it has acted as an agent of globalized capitalism and the increasing alienation and inequality in which that results. This dilemma and the failure of the Labour Party to articulate it openly, its failure to provide a progressive critique of the European Union and its failure to propose any kind of progressive alternative (thereby vacating political space into which right wing populists and nationalists inevitably moved) that can synthesize those two competing views, is in my view, the real challenge my Party faces today.

Instead it seems to be turning away from 17 million people and scapegoating one man. It risks learning nothing in what for many is a nostalgic effort to turn the clock back away for the Brexit of 2016 to the Cool Britannia of the Nineties, when Labour sang “things can only get better” and believed it. In the same way that Andrea Leadsom seemed to appeal to those Conservatives who wanted to return the UK to the comfortable certainties of the 1950’s.  Like Nigel Farage she is an anti-establishment figure from the Right who has fallen by the wayside – though I will never mourn either.

I am not a disciple of the cult of personality and if there was a charismatic leader-in-waiting who could win the loyalty of both Party members and Members of Parliament and who would commit to the same left wing values that won Jeremy my vote… I might reconsider. But there isn’t. There is a coup.

I did not “feel represented” by Tony Blair for the 13 years that he led my Party- and behaved in ways you can read about in my earlier blog – but I never plotted ways to bring him down.

That is why I am supporting Jeremy Corbyn today. Not because I am a socialist, although I am. But because I am a democrat. ..The Establishment isn’t.

Well it is not about electability, not wholly anyway. All four Parliamentary by-elections under Jeremy’s leadership have been substantial Labour victories. Ogmore in Wales saw the 2015 general election vote unchanged but still returned an 8500 Labour majority.  In the disaffected north of England, i.e. Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, Labour won and gained 6% points on the general election. In Oldham West and Royston, also a northern seat, Labour won too, gaining 7% points and in cosmopolitan London, only last month in Tooting, Labour won gaining 9% points. And of course Party membership (that fell consistently between 1997 and 2010) is, under Jeremy, ballooning.

It is not about policies either, not wholly anyway. If anything Ed Miliband’s Mansion Tax was more radical than anything that has come out of the Corbyn camp. Bring the railways into public ownership after the existing franchises expire? Very popular, even among non-Labour voters. A National Investment Bank? Likewise. Indeed there are no crosses-the- red- line pledges such as mass re-nationalisation or leaving NATO or marginal tax rates of 95% that I can see to trigger panic among the centrists in the PLP or in the constituencies.

Personal scandal? Despite some who fear Jeremy is anti-Semitic (and the Israeli Ambassador said he was perfectly relaxed about Corbyn’s speech after the Chakrabarti report was launched) this has not been referenced by the revolt.

The obvious answer is that the politics of most of the PLP was forged in the centrist New Labour years while Jeremy’s values and societal view comes from an earlier more left wing time. But more illuminating is the timing of this unprecedented purge of the leader, coming as it does in the wake of the Referendum result.

On one level it is convenient for the plotters to take advantage of the despondency and bewilderment of those Labour members who voted Remain and who are understandably still grieving (or in some cases rationalizing the Leave result as a socio-psychotic episode, an atavistic spasm of the stupid and the racist). On the other it perfectly captures the failure of the Labour Party to anticipate the consequences of the qualified neo-liberal economic project that the European Union is in leadership, policy and practice. It shines a light on the fault line between the more cosmopolitan and more bourgeois members for whom the EU is a symbol of internationalism, diversity and peace and the more provincial and working class members on whom it has acted as an agent of globalized capitalism and the increasing alienation and inequality in which that results. This dilemma and the failure of the Labour Party to articulate it openly, its failure to provide a progressive critique of the European Union and its failure to propose any kind of progressive alternative that can synthesize those two competing views, (thereby leaving this political space vacant which allowed right wing populists and nationalists to move in with dangerous consequences) is in my view, the real challenge my Party faces today.

Instead it seems to be turning away from 17 million people and scapegoating one man. It risks learning nothing in what for many is a nostalgic effort to turn the clock back away from the Brexit of 2016 to the Cool Britannia of the Nineties, when Labour sang “things can only get better” and believed it. In the same way that Andrea Leadsom seemed to appeal to those Conservatives who wanted to return the UK to the comfortable certainties of the 1950’s.  Like Nigel Farage she is an anti-establishment figure from the Right who has fallen by the wayside – though I will never mourn either.

I am not a disciple of the cult of personality and if there was a charismatic leader-in-waiting who could win the loyalty of both Party members and Members of Parliament and who would commit to the same left wing values that won Jeremy my vote… I might reconsider. But there isn’t. There is a coup.

I did not “feel represented” by Tony Blair for the 13 years that he led my Party- and behaved in ways you can read about in my earlier blog – but I never plotted ways to bring him down.

That is why I am supporting Jeremy Corbyn today. Not because I am a socialist, although I am. But because I am a democrat.

The Establishment isn’t.